Read CHAPTER I. - I FIND MYSELF A FOUNDLING. of The Adventures of Harry Revel , free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on

My earliest recollections are of a square courtyard surrounded by high walls and paved with blue and white pebbles in geometrical patterns ­circles, parallelograms, and lozenges.  Two of these walls were blank, and had been coped with broken bottles; a third, similarly coped, had heavy folding doors of timber, leaden-grey in colour and studded with black bolt-heads.  Beside them stood a leaden-grey sentry-box, and in this sat a red-faced man with a wooden leg and a pigtail, whose business was to attend to the wicket and keep an eye on us small boys as we played.  He owned two books which he read constantly:  one was Foxe’s Martyrs, and the other (which had no title on the binding) I opened one day and found to be The Devil on Two Sticks.

The arch over these gates bore two gilt legends.  That facing the roadway ran:  “Train up a Child in the Way he should Go,” which prepared the visitor to read on the inner side:  “When he is Old he will not Depart from it.” But we twenty-five small foundlings, who seldom evaded the wicket, and so passed our days with the second half of the quotation, found in it a particular and dreadful meaning.

The fourth and last wall was the front of the hospital, a two-storeyed building of grey limestone, with a clock and a small cupola of copper, weather-greened, and a steeply pitched roof of slate pierced with dormer windows, behind one of which (because of a tendency to walk in my sleep) I slept in the charge of Miss Plinlimmon, the matron.  Below the eaves ran a line of eight tall windows, the three on the extreme right belonging to the chapel; and below these again a low-browed colonnade, in the shelter of which we played on rainy days, but never in fine weather ­though its smooth limestone slabs made an excellent pitch for marbles, whereas on the pebbles in the yard expertness could only be attained by heart-breaking practice.  Yet we preferred them.  If it did nothing else, the Genevan Hospital, by Plymouth Dock, taught us to suit ourselves to the world as we found it.

I do not remember that we were unhappy or nursed any sense of injury, except over the porridge for breakfast.  The Rev. Mr. Scougall, our pastor, had founded the hospital some twenty years before with the money subscribed by certain Calvinistic ladies among whom he ministered, and under the patronage of a Port Admiral of like belief, then occupying Admiralty House.  His purpose (to which we had not the smallest objection) was to rescue us small jetsam and save us from many dreadful Christian hérésies, more especially those of Rome.  But he came from the north of Britain and argued (I suppose) that what porridge had done for him in childhood it might well do for us ­ a conclusion against which our poor little southern stomachs rebelled.  It oppressed me worse than any, for since the discovery of my sleep-walking habit my supper (of plain bread and water) had been docked, so that I came ravenous to breakfast and yet could not eat.

Nevertheless, I do not think we were unhappy.  Perhaps we were too young, and at any rate we had nothing with which to contrast our lot.  Across the roadway outside lay blue water, and of this and of roving ships and boats and free passers-by glimpses came to us through the wicket when Mr. George, the porter (we always addressed him as “Mr.” and supposed him to resemble the King in features), admitted a visitor, or the laundress, or the butcher’s boy.  And sometimes we broke off a game to watch the topmasts of a vessel gliding by silently, above the wall’s coping.  But if at any time the world called to us, we took second thoughts, remembering our clothes.

We wore, I dare say, the most infernal costume ever devised by man ­a tightish snuff-coloured jacket with diminutive tails, an orange waistcoat, snuff-coloured breeches, grey-blue worsted stockings, and square-toed shoes with iron toe-plates.  Add a flat-topped cap with an immense leathern brim; add Genevan neck-bands; add, last of all, a leathern badge with “G.F.H.” (Genevan Foundling Hospital) depending from the left breast-button; and you may imagine with what diffidence we took our rare walks abroad.  The dock-boys, of course, greeted us with cries of “Yellow Hammer!” The butcher-boy had once even dared to fling that taunt at us within our own yard; and we left him in no doubt about the hammering, gallant fellow though he was and wore a spur on his left heel.  But no bodily deformity could have corroded us as did those thrice-accursed garments with terror of the world without and of its laughter.

Of a world yet more distant we were taught the gloomiest views.  Twice a week regularly, and incidentally whenever he found occasion, Mr. Scougall painted the flames of hell for us in the liveliest colours.  We never doubted his word that our chances of escaping them were small indeed; but somehow, as life did not allure, so eternity did not greatly frighten us.  Meanwhile we played at our marbles.  We knew, in spite of the legend over the gateway, that at the age of ten or so our elder companions disappeared.  They went, as a fact, into various trades and callings, like ordinary parish apprentices.  Perhaps we guessed this; if so, it must have been vaguely, and I incline to believe that we confused their disappearance with death in our childish musings on the common lot.  They never came back to see us; and I remember that we were curiously shy of speaking about them, once gone.

From Miss Plinlimmon’s window above the eaves I could look over the front wall on to an edge of roadway, a straight dock like a canal ­ crowded with shipping ­and a fort which fired a gun in the early morning and again at sunset.  And every morning, too, the drums would sound from the hill at our back; and be answered by a soldier, who came steadily down the roadway beside the dock, halted in front of our gates, and blew a call on his bugle.  Other bugle-calls sounded all around us throughout the day and far into our sleep-time:  but this was the only performer I ever saw.  He wore a red coat, a high japanned hat, and clean white pantaloons with black gaiters:  and I took it for granted that he was always the same soldier.  Yet I had plenty of opportunities for observing him, for Miss Plinlimmon made it a rule that I should stand at the window and continue to gaze out of it while she dressed.

One day she paused in the act of plaiting her hair.  “Harry,” said she, “I shall always think of you and that tune together.  It is called the Revelly, which is a French word.”

“But the soldier is English?” said I.

“Oh, I truly trust so ­a heart of oak, I should hope!  England cannot have too many of them in these days, when a weak woman can scarce lay herself down in her bed at night with the certainty of getting up in the same position in the morning.”

(They were days when, as I afterwards learnt, Napoleon’s troops and flat-bottomed boats were gathered at Boulogne and waiting their opportunity to invade us.  But of this scarcely an echo penetrated to our courtyard, although the streets outside were filled daily with the tramping of troops and rolling of store-wagons.  We knew that our country ­whatever that might mean ­was at war with France, and we played in our yard a game called “French and English.”  That was all:  and Miss Plinlimmon, good soul, if at times she awoke in the night and shuddered and listened for the yells of Frenchmen in the town, heroically kept her fears to herself.  This was as near as she ever came to imparting them.)

“I have often thought of you, Harry,” she went on, “as embracing a military career.  Mr. Scougall very kindly allows me to choose surnames for you boys when you ­when you leave us.  He says (but I fear in flattery) that I have more invention than he.”  And here, though bound on my word of honour not to look, I felt sure she was smiling to herself in the glass.  “What would you say if I christened you Revelly?”

“Oh, please, no!” I entreated.  “Let mine be an English name.  Why ­why couldn’t I be called Plinlimmon?  I would rather have that than any name in the world.”

“You are a darling!” exclaimed she, much to my surprise; and, the next moment, I felt a little pecking kiss on the back of my neck.  She usually kissed me at night, after my prayers were said:  but somehow this was different, and it fetched tears to my eyes ­greatly to my surprise, for we were not given to tears at the Genevan Hospital.  “Plinlimmon is a mountain in Wales, and that, I dare say, is what makes me so romantic.  Now, you are not romantic in the least:  and, besides, it wouldn’t do.  No, indeed.  But you shall be called by an English name, if you wish, though to my mind there’s a je ne saïs quoi about the French.  I once knew a Frenchman, a writing and dancing master, called Duvelleroy, which always seemed the beautifullest name.”

“Was he beautiful himself?” I asked.

“He used to play a kit ­which is a kind of small fiddle ­holding it across his waist.  It made him look as if he were cutting himself in half; which did not contribute to that result.  But suppose, now, we call you Revel ­Harry Revel?  That’s English enough, and will remind me just the same ­if Mr. Scougall will not think it too Anacherontic.”

I saw no reason to fear this:  but then I had no idea what she meant by it, or by calling herself romantic.  She was certainly soft-hearted.  She possessed many books, as well as an album in her own handwriting, and encouraged me to read aloud to her on summer mornings when the sun was up and ahead of us.  And once, in the story of Maximilian, or Quite the Gentleman:  Founded on Fact and Designed to excite the Love of Virtue in the Rising Generation, at a point where the hero’s small brother Felix is carried away by an eagle, she dissolved in tears.  “In my native Wales,” she explained afterwards, “the wild sheep leap from rock to rock so much as a matter of course that you would, in time, be surprised if they didn’t.  And that naturally gives me a sympathy with all that is sublime on the one hand or affecting on the other.”

Yet later ­but I cannot separate these things accurately in time ­I awoke in my cot one night and heard Miss Plinlimmon sobbing.  The sound was dreadful to me and I longed to creep across the room to her dark bedside and comfort her; though I could tell she was trying to suppress it for fear of disturbing me.  In the end her sobs ceased and, still wondering, I dropped off to sleep, nor next day did I dare to question her.

But it could not have been long after this that we boys got wind of Mr. Scougall’s approaching marriage with a wealthy lady of the town.  I must speak of this ceremony, because, as the fates ordained, it gave me my first start in life.